Steady and solid Riddle sparks men’s hockey turnaround

The senior tied former teammate Johnny Pohl for 18th place on Minnesota’s all-time goals list last Friday.

Lou Raguse

When Minnesota men’s hockey senior Troy Riddle scored a power-play goal late in the first period last Friday against Minnesota State-Mankato, he further solidified his place in Gophers hockey history.

That goal – the 71st of the assistant captain’s career – tied him with friend and former teammate Johnny Pohl for 18th place in Minnesota history.

For Riddle, with each weekend series that he plays consistently, he will continue to climb the all-time scoring ladder. But now, in his last season wearing a Gophers jersey, and with two national championship rings, Riddle wants nothing more than to, like Pohl, finish his collegiate career on top of the nation.

“You look at guys like Johnny and Jordan (Leopold) and everything they went through their first couple years – they finished on top,” Riddle said. “There would be nothing better than to know that I won my last game in this jersey.”

After Riddle experienced little but winning in his first three years with the Gophers, starting his senior season 2-7-1 was difficult to say the least.

Eventually, as Gophers coach Don Lucia pointed out, the team’s success coincided with Riddle hitting his own stride.

Riddle attributes the Gophers’ recent improvement to playing as a team.

As for his own success, he has reached this point by going to work every day. The senior hasn’t missed a game in his career, and in 24 games this season has 13 goals and 14 assists.

“He’s one of the hardest-working players I’ve coached – especially the consistency,” Lucia said. “That’s Troy’s trademark night in and night out. He’s been very emotional in the locker room – one of those guys who likes to talk before the games.”

Just as the scoring torch was passed down from Pohl to Riddle, the current Gophers forward has inherited power-play proficiency as well.

During Minnesota’s current unbeaten streak, the team has upped its power-play percentage to 29.6 percent – which is a distant first in the nation. Riddle and teammate Matt Koalska currently lead the nation’s top power-play unit with 14 points apiece.

That efficiency could make a difference in this weekend’s series against No. 1 North Dakota, which is ranked 50th nationally with the man advantage.

“Me and Matty had to wait our turn,” Riddle said. “But now, when our power play is going a little bit, our team really is going too.”

Riddle and Koalska have been roommates and teammates the last four years, and the two have grown close.

Now, with five of Minnesota’s last seven regular-season series at home, the Mariucci crowd, as well as teammates and friends, hope that Riddle can continue his offensive spark.

“He’s a great energizer for us,” Koalska said. “He’s only 5’10, 175 pounds, but he plays like he’s 6’3, 200, and that’s what we need.”

After practice Wednesday, Riddle looked out at the ice at Mariucci while reminiscing about past seasons. Despite the realization that he is nearing the home stretch of his college career, there are plenty of games to pass other Minnesota greats on the all-time scoring list.

“He’s been a great leader, and he’s grown up a lot in his career here,” Lucia said. “He’s going to be someone, that as he moves on, we’ll miss him a lot here.”

But he’s not going anywhere quite yet. There’s still that third ring waiting for him in Boston.